Construction has slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic as contracts have been cancelled, often due to owners or developers being closed or, in the case of infrastructure, governments being stressed by lack of tax revenue. Workers have been furloughed, jobsites closed, increased costs for onsite safety and virus prevention have multiplied and, in some states, things are not looking better in the near future.
Sixty percent of firms responding to a recent survey by the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) and Autodesk report having at least one future project postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus, while 33% report having projects that were already underway halted because of the pandemic. The share of firms reporting canceled projects has nearly doubled since the survey AGC conducted in June, when 32% of respondents reported cancellations.
The coronavirus has also undermined the sector’s productivity levels as firms across the country change the way they operate to protect workers and the public from the disease. Some 44% of responding firms report that it has taken longer to complete projects and 32% say it has cost more to complete ongoing projects because of the coronavirus. As a result, 40% report they have adopted new hardware or software to alleviate labor shortages they have experienced.
Where work has resumed or is getting back on pace, it remains difficult for a majority of firms to find craft workers to hire, according to the workforce survey which paints a picture of an industry in need of immediate recovery measures and longer-term workforce development support.
The pandemic has made it difficult for many firms to fill open positions, especially for hourly craft jobs. A majority (52%) of firms responding report having a hard time filling some or all hourly craft positions, especially openings for laborers, carpenters, and equipment operators. Sixty percent of firms had at least one unfilled hourly craft position as of June 30. In addition, 28% of respondents report difficulty filling salaried positions—in particular, project managers and supervisors.
In addition to turning to diverse technologies to alleviate labor shortages, 38% of firms report having increased base pay rates to attract and retain workers. In contrast, only 3% of firms have reduced pay, despite the downturn in business. Associations and unions are working to find ways to prepare workers for the future, increase apprenticeships and training programs, and generally devote more effort to bringing online new recruits to construction.
Among the organizations that have programs for new workers are YouthBuild USA and the HBI (Home Builders Institute). They recently announced a partnership aimed at equipping nearly 200 U.S. Department of Labor grantees with access to educational resources for construction trade skills. YouthBuild USA is a nonprofit support center with 252 programs in 46 U.S. states and 48 programs in 20 other countries. In YouthBuild programs, unemployed and out-of-school young people ages 16-24 work toward their high school diploma or equivalency, while learning job skills by building affordable housing and other community assets in their neighborhoods and engaging in community service and leadership training. Proven effective by the most rigorous program evaluation research, YouthBuild’s comprehensive model gives graduates the confidence and tools they need to become strong, responsible, and ethical young leaders.
As a national nonprofit that provides training, curriculum, and job placement services for the building industry, the HBI has overall program job placement rates at more than 85% for graduates. Its training programs are taught in local communities across the country to at-risk youth, veterans, transitioning military members, justice-involved youth and adults, and displaced workers.
The partnership intends to ensure quality career and technical education to students in YouthBuild’s 46-state network of urban and rural programs. In the last decade, nearly 800 participants have earned HBI training certificates from YouthBuild programs. This latest partnership will include YouthBuild USA and HBI-conducted joint training of YouthBuild educators/staff, PACT (pre-apprenticeship certificate training)-curriculum offerings, and skilled trade certifications for program graduates.
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